Bike donated to survivor

Wednesday, March 7, 2012
A great gift Officers with the Cassville Police Department presented Dakota Pendergrass with a new bike after his was destroyed inthe Feb. 29 tornado that struck Cassville. Pendergrass, 5, is pictured above with his damaged bike after the tornado. From left, are: Lt. Danny Boyd, Pendergrass, and Patrolman Jason Manning. The officers were able to replace the bike from some unclaimed property at the police department and through the generosity of two local businesses.

Much is lost when a tornado strikes a community. Losses may include loved ones, precious possessions or a home.

The Pendergrass family, of Cassville, survived the trauma of having their mobile home overturned during the early morning tornado that struck the area on Feb. 29. Kevin and Crystal Pendergrass and their sons, Dakota and Dalton, escaped with minor cuts and scrapes.

Dakota Pendergrass, 5, found his prized possession -- his bike -- among the rubble that was left of his home and yard. It had been irreparably damaged in the storm.

"When we got here, Dakota was pushing his bike, and it was obvious he was not going to be able to ride it any more," said Lt. Danny Boyd, of the Cassville Police Department.

That's where two members of the Cassville Police Department stepped up to the plate.

Warm welcome Democrat Photo/Lisa Schlichtman Cassville Police Chief Dana Kammerlohr, who is pictured above with her K9 Charka, were among the local officials who greeted Governor Jay Nixon on his arrival in Cassville. Kammerlohr and Charka were part of the local search and rescue effort following last Wednesday morning's deadly tornado that touched down in Cassville.

"Our department has several bikes that have been turned in, so we found one that had not been claimed," Boyd said.

The new bike is slightly larger than the one Dakota had previously owned, allowing him the opportunity to ride it much longer than he would have been able to with his smaller one.

After taking the unclaimed bike to Hutchen's Construction to have the tires aired up, Boyd and Patrolman Jason Manning found there was another problem.

"We went to Walmart to buy a couple of tire tubes," Boyd said. "When they heard what we were doing, they just donated them to us."

Once the bike was ready to ride, the two officers presented it to Dakota, who was thrilled with the gift. He immediately hopped on his new bike and began peddling down the road, which was still covered with debris from the tornado's destructive swath through the neighborhood.

"I don't want to relive it ever again," said Crystal, "but I do, every night when I close my eyes.

"If not for two trees in our yard, I think the tornado would have sucked the trailer up and we'd all be dead now," she said. "God was watching over us that night."

For now, Crystal, Kevin and their children are staying with other family members while they clear the debris from their property and try to start anew.

A helping hand Democrat Photo/Lisa Schlichtman American Red Cross volunteers Ron and Judith Wihebrink, of Cassville, assessed tornado damage to mobile homes along Farm Road 1102 just north of Business 37 in Cassville. The Wihebrinks distributed vouchers for food, lodging and clothing to those whose homes were destroyed by the tornado.

"We are staying with my brother until we get our life rebuilt," Crystal said. "I don't know what we're going to do. I had just bought a vehicle, so I could start looking for a job. It was totaled in the storm."

With a persevering Ozarkian spirit, the family plans to stay in the place they called home.

"We plan to come back and build right here," Crystal said. "We own this property. But I can't live in a trailer any more. I just can't."

Healing will come with time, although some of the scars will remain -- on the landscape and in the souls of those who triumphed over Mother Nature's wrath.

Family's life turned upside down Democrat Photo/Lisa Schlichtman The home of Kevin and Crystal Pendergraft was flipped completely over by the E-2 tornado that touched down on the north side of Cassville last Wednesday morning. The Pendergrafts and their two young sons miraculously escaped injury.

But for Dakota, the process has already begun, as he pedaled his new bike into the evening sun, leaving smiles of contentment on the faces of the officers as they watched him ride it for the first time.

"This is the least we could do after all they went through," Boyd said. "We both have kids, and we know how it would be if [this had happened to] one of ours."

"We just want to thank the community," Crystal said, "for all of their thoughts and prayers and help."

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